Short, and to the point, this was originally meant as a challenge, but didn't quite fit the regulation. No problem -- we liked it so much, we bumped it up to full story status. In it, returning author Arlen writes of what happens when Cragen witnesses Logan's delayed reaction to his recent divorce and his ex-wife's
remarriage. Fans of Arlen's writing may recognize Caitlin from her other stories; others are in for a treat, even though she never makes a personal appearance in the tale.
What Mattered Most
By Arlen Wils
Malloy's Bar and Grill
New York City
Tuesday 11:06 p.m.
Good God, Cragen thought, Logan was drunk. Bleary-eyed, word-slurring, country music and crying in your beer drunk. The detective was slumped over in a booth, and the bartender waved a hand at Cragen as he entered. Dave knew Cragen from his time at the head of the two-seven, and he smiled grimly. "I didn't want to just shove him in a cab, Captain."
"Yeah, thanks, Dave. I'll take care of him." Donnie made his way over to Mike's booth. He was muttering incoherently, the snatches Cragen heard making absolutely no sense. Hooking a hand around Logan's upper arm, Cragen tried to tug him to his feet. Luckily, Mike didn't resist, stumbling to his feet.
Mike focused blearily on Cragen, his hands clutching at Cragen's biceps. "Donnie," he rasped, and Cragen coughed a little as the smell of alcohol blasted over him. Mike chuckled, a totally humorless sound. "Buddy...what are ya doing here?"
Cragen began moving them toward the door. "Taking you home, Mikey."
"Okay," Mike nodded, tossing a heavy arm around Cragen's shoulders and leaning most of his weight on the older man. It was unexpected, and Cragen staggered a little under the load. He thought they were doing real well, until they reached the door and Mike looked down at his hands, a horrified expression darkening his eyes. "Shit," he mumbled, patting at the pockets of his rumpled suit jacket. "My ring. Dammit, Donnie, my ring's gone. Cait'll have a fit..."
Shocked, Cragen looked at him oddly. Mike's divorce from Caitlin Falconetti had been final for just under a year. In all that time, Cragen had not heard Mike mention her name once, not even in passing. He really was drunk tonight, Cragen thought. Shaking Mike slightly, he finally got his attention. "Mikey, man, it's okay. Your ring's not lost. You don't wear it anymore." He shook his head, wondering just where Logan's mind was. "Remember?"
A confused frown settled on Mike's face. "I don't?"
Cragen nodded. "You don't. It's okay." He tugged Mike toward the curb. "Let's get you home and into bed."
The fifteen minute drive to Mike's one-bedroom walkup was silent except for Mike's occasional unintelligible mumblings. Once inside, Cragen pushed Mike down onto the sofa. Mike leaned his head back, staring at the ceiling, his eyes blank. Cragen sighed and tugged him back up. "Jesus, Mike, what's with you tonight?" he asked irritably, helping Mike as he clumsily shed his suit jacket.
Mike stuck his hands in his pockets, spilling a handful of change on the floor, a tattered newspaper clipping falling to the coffee table. He ignored it, falling back on the couch. He shook his head, bewilderment plain on his face. "How could she, Donnie? She promised..."
"Who promised what?" Cragen asked, not really expecting an answer. He tugged off Mike's shoes, dropping them on the floor. "Sleep it off, Mike. Not that you'll feel much better in the morning."
Mike was still muttering, ignoring him. "How could she do this? She told me she wouldn't leave me...ever..."
His voice slurred sleepily, and he slumped sideways on the couch, eyes drifting partway shut. "Doesn't love me anymore...how did that happen, Donnie...what did I do?"
The clipping caught Cragen's eye, and realization settled heavily over him as he picked it up. Caitlin, wearing a wedding gown and in the arms of a grinning dark-haired man, smiled out of the photo, her eyes glowing with a look Cragen hadn't seen there since the night Mike had been shot and their short marriage had started going to hell.
Caitlin Marie Falconetti of Cutter Texas and Lamar Eugene Calvert Jr. of Leslie, Georgia exchanged wedding vows Saturday, March 25....
Obviously, Mike wasn't as cold and pragmatic about his broken marriage as he wanted everyone to believe, or he wouldn't be here now, shitfaced and knee-walking drunk because Caitlin had gotten on with her life. Sympathy tugged at Cragen. Caitlin was as lost to Mike now as Marge was to him. "Go to sleep, Mike," he said in a low voice, turning off the light. "Just sleep it off."
"Never meant for this to happen..." Mike whispered as sleep began to tug at him. "Loved her...thought she knew that..."
Sleep claimed him as Cragen settled a thin blanket over him. Donnie barely heard the last word Mike murmured, but his ears caught it, the pain in the single word a testament of devastation, a devastation Cragen understood all too well. The pain never went away, and the alcohol didn't even begin to numb it, to make it bearable.